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ShadeOfLight avatar 2:47 PM on 02.08.2011  (server time)
Groundhog Day: In the Belly of the Whale

Well Destructoid, you finally did it. You just gave me the perfect excuse to talk about Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean for a while. I dropped many hints, even warned you, that I would be forced to shower praise upon that game as much as possible, should I be given the opportunity. And now with this Monthly Musing, that opportunity has finally come.
You see, Baten Kaitos is a 50+ hour Gamecube RPG, and I've played through it at the very least five times. It also had a prequel, Baten Kaitos Origins (I won't be going into any detail on that one in this blog), which I've played at least twice. Moreover, I intend to replay both of them again in the near future.

(I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but some might still slip in, so be aware of that from here on out)
But first things first: have you ever heard of Baten Kaitos? Chances are you haven't, since it doesn't seem to be such a well-known all. However, if you don't know it yet, at least it will give me some nice open minds to convince of its greatness. So let's get started with my long, yet nowhere near complete, explanation of my love of and constant returns to Monolith Soft's wonderful world. Let's fly into the Belly of the Whale.

I would like to start with the setting of this game, the world that it attempts to bring to life, since that is one of the most important parts.
In ancient times, so goes the tale, there was a huge battle between man and the ancient god of destruction, Malpercio. Mankind was victorious, managing to kill Malpercio and seal him away. However, the battle had left the earth scarred and poisoned, making it practically uninhabitable. Therefore, a group of wizards decided to raise several large islands up in the sky, where the people could rebuild their lives. Fast-forward some thousand years, and people have adapted to life in the sky, even evolving wings to make life a bit easier.

So this is where the entire game takes place. For me, that alone is enough to make me come back to this game over and over again. As far as worlds go, Monolith was able to create one of the most interesting ones I have ever seen. What makes it even better is that every island has its own distinct look and feel. Even the people of each island seem to have their own kind of culture as well. For example, the island Diadem is known as the 'land of the clouds', since the entire island is covered with clouds. The inhabitants actually found a way to 'sail' on these clouds, and you will find many 'fishermen' in Diadem as a result. To name two more: Anuenue is known as the 'Rainbow Nation' and its people are pretty festive most of the time, and Mira is the 'City of Illusion'. The latter contains anything from a picture book-like village to a dimensional rift, so even that title is completely accurate.

What's also interesting is that the culture, background and personality of a person seems to also have influence on the wings of that person. One party member, Gibari, is one of those fishermen I mentioned, and his wings resemble those of a flying fish more than a bird. In contrast, Kalas' (see header) natural wing looks a lot more like that of an eagle. (Kalas was born with only one natural wing. The other is mechanical, made by his grandfather)
A final cool detail is that, in keeping with the 'sky'-theme, almost all of the islands and towns are named after stars. Mira and Diadem are two examples. In fact even 'Baten Kaitos' is a star, in the whale constellation, and the name is Arabic for 'belly of the whale'. I bet you were wondering when I'd finally explain that.
(The whale is actually also important to the story of the game, so even that has significance)

All of this combined makes for a very interesting, detailed and varied world, one that is still fun to explore even the fifth time around. It gets even better when it turns out that the five islands aren't the only things floating in the sky and that there may be other places to explore as well. But to say any more would border on spoilers, so let's quickly move on.

This is one of the five major islands that form the world of Baten Kaitos. Care to guess which one?

The story, then. The emperor of the island Alfard is after the so-called 'End Magnus' (more on magnus later), which hold the pieces of Malpercio. By bringing them together one could resurrect the god...which would be bad. Reluctant hero Kalas and not-so-reluctant heroine Xelha go out to stop him. You, the player, also have a role in this story: you take the role of a spirit which houses in Kalas, and which gives him advice and makes him stronger.
The story is kind of basic, explained like this, but it all works nicely and it includes some really cool plottwists. For example, this game takes the 'traitor in our party'-trope and turns it completely on its head. That twist (which I will not spoil) in particular had my jaw on the floor.
A reason for this is that the game did a really good job in making every party-member seem trustworthy. Even despite the fact that two of them had previous ties with the emperor and Alfard, I couldn't imagine any one of them turning out to be a traitor. Try the game to see how this all played out.

The rest of the story, sometimes basic and sometimes not, was always very able to keep my interest, even after I had already experienced it four times.
If you think the world and the story would be enough to make me revisit this game time and time'd be completely right. But there's even more, obviously.

Off course, if the gameplay doesn't hold up, neither does the game.
In Baten Kaitos it all revolves around 'magnus'. Magnus are cards which are able to store the 'essence' of almost any object and spawn these objects when needed. This system is used for solving simple puzzles, but is most important for the battle system. In battle, you draw cards containing weapons to attack with. This means that there is a little bit of luck involved in battles (drawing the right cards at the right moments), but every player worth their wings can easily overcome this by finetuning the decks and using the cards well in battle.

The battle system gains some more depth by including up to four numbers (1 trough 9) on each card. Making poker-like combinations can consequentially greatly increase your damage output. But you have to be fast, since you only have a few seconds to choose each card. Besides that, some cards also have an element attached to them. Using cards of opposite elements in the same combo will make them cancel each other out. Therefore, the trick is making sure that your deck is well-suited to deal with the enemies at hand, and then quickly making the best possible combinations when your turn comes up.

I find that this battle system is a lot of fun to use. It keeps the player constantly involved by really calling upon the players quick eye, reflexes and above all quick thinking. It ensures that battles can never really become stale and don't become a chore. Toss in some truly awesome finishing moves, and you've got a system that's worth revisiting.

1-2-3-4? 4-4-8-8? Or hope for a 6 on the next card and try 3-4-5-6-7-8 for a huge bonus?

We come to the final parts of this blog. The last thing about Baten Kaitos that I really want to mention is its music. This game includes one of the best soundtracks for a game I have ever heard (as does the prequel) that is certainly worth checking out. Motoi Sakuraba, who also worked on Golden Sun and Tales of, did a simply amazing job.
From kick-ass guitar, to some really motivational tracks, to...whatever you would describe this as (from the prequel). There really are too many good tracks to mention (although tvtropes tried) and I once replayed this game just to hear the music once more in its proper context. I'm a pretty big video game OST fanatic, and the soundtrack to this game was the first step.

So, I think I have now mentioned the most important parts of Baten Kaitos, but I could surely go on (I honestly tried to keep it as short as possible). The game hosts many original and interesting ideas, and I love pretty much all of them.

In short though, in my opinion Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean is an underrated gem, known by way too few people. The world and story are great, the characters are interesting, the battle system is fun and engaging, and the music is awesome. All of this makes it one of my favorite games ever that I gladly revisit time and time again.

Now if anyone needs me, I'll be here gazing at the stars, looking for the Whale.

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